Techno colour: Grey gadgets have been eclipsed by a rainbow of electronics like Apple's new iPhone 5C

But is bright always right, asks Simon Usborne?

The great tech rumour mill creaked to a momentary pause this week as susceptible consumers preparing to spend more than they should took a first (official) look at Apple's new iPhones. Finally, for a device that changed the way we communicate while displaying the visual variety of a line of Bosch washing machines, they saw a splash of colour.

The iPhone 5C ("c" for colour) – the cheaper of the two models revealed on Tuesday – will come in yellow, green, blue and red. The 5S, meanwhile, the posh one with the fingerprint sensor, will be available in gold, white and "space grey" (but alas not the "champagne" that had been the subject of many rumours).

That Apple, which briefly banished beige from our desktops with its landmark "Bondi blue" iMac in 1998 (before settling on understated silver), has taken so long to bring colour to its monochromatic phones reveals this about the industry: in the minds of play-it-safe manufacturers, growing consumer demand for customisation – and fun – has traditionally failed to overcome the risks involved in paint jobs. Who remembers Microsoft's failed iPod killer, the Zune, which launched in 2006 in black, white or… brown?

Today the average branch of Currys resembles the paint aisles at B&Q. In June, Samsung revealed new options for its flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S4, including "blue arctic", "red aurora", "purple mirage" and "pink twilight". Motorola and its new parent company, Google, went further last month with the release of the MotoMaker design tool, which allows US buyers of the company's Moto X smartphone to select near-infinite colour combinations (if you're not feeling inspired, the program will suggest hues based on your Facebook photos).

Beyond the smartphone shelves, a rainbow of colour plasters speakers, e-readers, cameras, radios, and headphones. Technical advances in mass production partly explain this superficial blooming. Apple admitted it had been harder than it expected to make a white iPhone 4, which it launched almost a year after the black model (the company apparently struggled to match the white of the glass front with the plastic home button) but now colours can be included at a manageable cost.

Apple’s high-colour 5C handset was unveiled earlier this week (Getty) Apple’s high-colour 5C handset was unveiled earlier this week (Getty)  

But are there broader reasons for the change? Karen Haller is a London-based colour and design consultant who has worked with brands including Orange Mobile and Logitech. "I think the early 2000s were about minimalism and everyone wanting to fit in," she says. "Even the home improvement shows were about living in a place with no personality that was ready to sell. Now it's swung the other way and it's all about personalisation, as if industries have given us permission to stand out and show personality."

While the gadget graveyard is dominated by black and shades of beige, there were flashes of inspiration before the current riot broke out. The Compucolor 8001, an early desktop computer launched in 1976, sported a blue and orange casing, while coloured fascias for pre-smartphone Nokias were popular.

The first blue iMac is credited with changing the way we relate to computers, turning them from functional apparatus into showpieces for the home. The popular "hot pink" edition of the Motorola Razr V3, launched in 2006, similarly gave phones new status as covetable fashion accessories. Colours are risky but also plunge corporations further into the fickle world of trends. Predicting what shades will sell has become an art.

Kate Smith, a colour consultant in the US, says trendspotters such as her "ask what political, social, economic issues we're concerned with and how this concern will find its way into colour and design". She says eras defined by scandal, such as the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and the Enron failure, have influenced subsequent demand for sheer and transparent design in everything from packaging to Plexiglass furniture.

Less subtly, Apple's new confidence in colour can also be traced to demands in newer markets such as China. Gold, meanwhile, is popular among wealthy consumers in Russia and the Middle East. Amjad Ali is a Glasgow-raised entrepreneur now based in Dubai, where he runs Gold and Co. The firm is preparing to meet record demand for its new iPhones, which it buys from Apple and then plates in pure gold and sells for £3,000. Ali says he received an order from the Saudi royal family to make a diamond-encrusted 18-carat gold iPhone 5 with a giant jewel for its home button. The bill: £50,000.

But even the super-rich want options. Ali, who says he is also fulfilling an order for 53 gold iPhones for a patriotic Nigerian (the country celebrates 53 years of independence next month), has just added a platinum option to the firm's rose gold. "Muslim men are not supposed to wear gold," he explains. "We had government departments, for example, cancelling orders so now we're launching platinum to tap into a huge market... Everyone wants to be different."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine